One of the fundamental things holding back wearable tech to now has been that it is just that: Technology. The Apple Watch may be sleek and is far from hideous, but it is hardly what many would describe as ‘fashionable’. There has generally been a disconnect between high fashion and technology up until this point, and the wearable tech industry has been awaiting the conflation of the two; as soon as the products are produced with form first and functionality second, their place in the mass market - not just that of tech enthusiasts - can be properly cemented.
Michael Kors has teamed up with Google to begin their foray into wearable technology, a market that is set to become heavily saturated and one that major brands would do well to make a move into sooner rather than later. The US giants have taken the high fashion route, taking some of the capabilities of smartwatches and fitting them into what is essentially a luxury item.
Their watches are compatible with both Apple and Android phones, the clock face can be altered with a swipe, and they hold perhaps the more practical smartwatch features - social media updates, text and email alerts, fitness tracking services and voice-activated Google. 'I'm in the business of making people's lives easier through fashion,' the designer said. 'I thought, ‘Why can't tech accessories be chic and glamorous?’' The watches will be far from cheap - at $395 they are only slightly cheaper than most Apple Watches - but the move from such a recognizable brand is a suggestion of things to come.
A myriad of different wearable tech options are popping up and fashion is playing an increasingly prominent role. Canada’s Calgary is something of a hub, and the MakeFashion 2016 Gala took place in early April, with over 10 new projects on display. The event brings fashionable tech to the runway, with co-founder Shannon Hoover claiming the designs are focused on ‘augmenting the human experience’. Some are certainly more useful than others, and toeing the line between functionality and gimmick is a challenge for the entire industry. Topshop are releasing the second collection of the B-Pay enabled accessories - which currently range from a phone case to a sticker than could augment any item with payment capabilities - which aims to bring affordable wearable tech to the high street.
Most high-end smart jewelry hasn’t, at present, discovered any functionality beyond notifications reminding a wearer to check their smartphones; a nice touch, perhaps, but at the current price such features are luxuries. The idea of having to charge one’s jewelry isn’t particularly appealing, either. But the likes of Armani, Tommy Hilfiger, Coach, Juicy Couture, Diesel and Kate Spade are all putting out smart analogue and smartwatches in 2016, so expect to see the concept of high-end wearables become entirely normalized this year.
And the move toward high-end fashion in wearables extends far further than wrist-wear and jewelry. Everything from a dress that displays the user’s brain activity through color, to a fashionable coat with in-built body heaters is currently available. The latter, produced by Emel and Aris, has raised over £104,000 of their £70,000 Kickstarter goal, offering reduced pre-order prices to the more generous backer. Their promotional video focuses not on the heating capabilities of the coat but on its style.
We actually had the chance to use the coat for a weekend and found that the wearable element was certainly secondary to the style. Despite it’s impressive heating capabilities ,the cut and fit was what defined it. Clearly, the potential of wearables is great, particularly when they are created with form in mind as well as function. ‘We know technology is a major disruptor in many industries right now – even fashion. But to successfully merge the two, we believe you need to have the fashion design expertise and focus on it first,’ Fossil's chief creative officer, Jill Elliott, told Wareable.
And this is why you might be right to be excited about high-fashion and technology’s inevitable coming together. If you’ve found yourself intrigued by wearable tech’s capabilities but turned off by the hyper-modern aesthetic, the entry of more established brands into the field may serve you. Wareable described wearable tech as past the ‘ugly duckling phase’, and in the coming years we should see products hit the market that not only enhance our daily lives, but look good while doing so.